Music on Radio 3

Schoenberg, Webern, Berg - just `Three of a Kind', according to the BBC. Not so, says Bayan Northcott: they're as different as they are alike.

It is not that one questions the idea of "Sounding the Century". On the contrary, surveying the significant music of the past 100 years in the remaining months before the millennium would seem an entirely appropriate function for a public service network such as Radio 3 - especially if it can manage to interest new listeners in the process. But that is surely the trouble with the current Three of a Kind, comprising four public concerts and a Composers of the Week series devoted to the so-called Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. Granted, they all came out of the same fin de siecle background, held the same views on tradition and innovation, musical material, form and expression, and shared in the evolution of the 12-tone method. Whether such closeness makes for the most effective programming is another matter.

Wednesday evening's relay from the Royal Festival Hall of the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Davis included not onlyWebern's Passacaglia Op 1 and Schoenberg's rarely heard Four Orchestral Songs Op 22, but Berg's Altenberg Lieder and Three Orchestral Pieces Op 6, plus Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces Op 16 and Variations for Orchestra Op 31. One could see the paper logic: two orchestral sets, two song sets, two variation- based pieces. Nor are any of these scores less than masterly in their densely detailed and intensely expressive unfolding. But cramming them into a single, unrelieved evening was bound to confront performers and listeners alike with the most daunting challenge.

That normally genial broadcaster Christopher Cook sounded, at times, equally uncomfortable in presenting Composers of the Week. Monday's instalment began with a crackly tape of the aged Schoenberg reaffirming the artistic primary of the imagination, followed by a recording of his Accompaniment to a Film Scene Op 34. In this instance, the film itself was wholly imaginary, but it served to broach the promising topic of Schoenberg's life-long interest in cinema and the influence of such techniques as cross-cutting and montage on his own music, which Cook attempted further to illustrate by including Schoenberg's earlier symbolic music-drama Die Gluckliche Hand.

But, of course, the programme also had to take some account of the rest of the Second Viennese School and, although Cook mentioned in passing the interlude in Lulu that Berg composed to accompany a brief silent film in the opera's second act, he actually chose, or was obliged to insert, none too convincingly, a recording of Berg's Piano Sonata Op 1, which had nothing to do with cinema.

Perhaps the point was to remind us that, although they shared the same aesthetic, the three composers were very different personalities. But, in that case, why not exploit the differences by programming each in his own context? For beginners, Schoenberg is probably best approached through the late Wagner and Brahms and the more proto-Expressionist pages of Mahler and Strauss from which he evolved. But he was also as interested in Debussy as Ravel was in him, suggesting another sequence of programmes. And, of course, there is always the Schoenberg-Stravinsky antithesis - a cross- cutting of whom might yield some unexpected parallels in the handling of classical forms and approach to religious texts. At least such juxtapositions, or even naughtier ones, might prompt some re-examination of the received view of the history of 20th-century music, which too many programmes in "Sounding the Century" have merely seemed to confirm.

Conducting Schoenberg's fearsome Moses und Aron at Covent Garden in the 1960s was one of the more heroic deeds of the late Sir Georg Solti, who came in for an evening-length Radio 3 celebration of recordings, interviews and discussions on Monday. Much was made of his professionalism and drive, not to mention his innumerable Grammy Awards, and the evening's presenter, Humphrey Carpenter, duly dubbed him "one of the greatest conductors in musical history". Yet comparisons with other conductors were rather conspicuously avoided, and one was left to wonder whether, even at his finest in Mozart, Mahler or Strauss, Solti quite commanded that seeming ability to focus a whole view of music, its history, values, philosophy, upon the performing moment, which, in such utterly different ways, marked a Toscanini, a Furtwangler or even a Beecham.

`Composers of the Week': last programme at 12 noon today, whole series repeated Mon-Fri next week at 11.30pm

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

    £15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

    Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

    £11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

    £15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most